“Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly…”
I sit at my drawing table, staring at the empty glass in front of me and the nearly finished bottle of whiskey beside it. The hushed busy noise of artists that once filled the studio has been replaced with a deafening damning silence. Their tables’ line up hauntingly in front of me, their ink stains the only reminder of the artists that once bled on them. I remember watching them pack their belongings into boxes earlier that day— pouring what’s left of the whiskey into my glass, and wondering if they feel as hollow as I do now. Scattered drawings and storyboards line the walls: our children that didn’t get a shot at life, our fantasies that didn’t get to sing or dance, our stories cut short before they even began. I reach down opening the bottom drawer and pull out another bottle of whiskey, hoping to find an answer to… well… shit. I pour myself another glass filled with smoky, sweet amber lies.
I stand swaying just a bit, down my glass, and pick up three things: my precious bottle of whiskey, a pack of matches, and a metal waste basket. Staggering to the center of the studio I prepare my pseudo funeral pyre— grabbing some sketches off nearby desks, crumpling and throwing them into my waste basket.
“Clarabelle. Horace. Clara.” my voice cracking just a bit as I pour whiskey into the basket after them— a farewell toast for the dearly departed. My hands shake as I light the match and toss it into the basket. I take one big swig and finish what’s left in the bottle as the fire rises; smoky black tendrils sending their fictional spirits on high to wherever cartoons go to when they die. I collapse sitting on the ground, letting the empty bottle roll away. I try to rub the frustration, the anger and the weariness from my face with both hands… maybe… maybe if I just keep my eyes closed, all my problems will go away…
…just… just let it all go…
…give up and admit…
… Dreams can die…
“Hey asshole!” a tiny squeaky voice shouts out, “What are ya doing to my friends?!”
“W-who’s there?” I ask startled, climbing unsteadily to my feet with the aid of the desk beside me. I see no one after getting up off the floor; the door to the studio is still closed and locked, “I must be drunker than I thought.”
“Look down ya bozo!” yells the strange tiny angry squeaky voice.
Looking down at the desk I see a sketch of what looks like a very angry mouse wearing short pants with two buttons sewn on to it, tapping its foot angrily. I rub my eyes. Pinch myself. Yup. That foot is still tapping. Only one answer came to mind.
“I am plastered as fuck.”
“Yeah? Just goes to show, ya don’t have the balls to handle that juice ya wimp,” said the mouse. I watch the black and white cartoon pull itself out of the paper, stomp angrily to the hand supporting me on the desk, and give it a swift angry kick. I’m too stunned (drunk?) to react or register the pain.
“W-who are you?” I stammer out, “H-how did you get out of that- how did you come to li- Am I dead?” The questions flow out of my slack jawed mouth in a torrent.
“Me? Ya can call me Mortimer. Mortimer Mouse. I’ll answer the rest when, and if I wanna, ya dig?”
“Mortimer? That’s kind of a silly name for a mouse isn’t it?”
“Ya wife has a better name for me,” Mortimer said pulling out a pack of cigarettes, “Enough chit-chat bozo. Ya know ya just committed murder, right? The worst kinda murder, the killing of Dreams.”
“M-murder? Me?” I look down at Mortimer confused as I watch him light a cigarette and puff it to life.
“Yeeeah yous. Ya see anyone else in the room, Sherlock?” he blows a perfectly circular cartoon smoke ring into the air, “Ya just murdered three Toons, burned them alive ya did! Ya cold hearted bastard.”
I turn to look at the dying fire in the waste basket, “I think you might be overreacting a bit. All I did was burn a few pieces of paper with sketches on them.”
“O-overreacting-?! Why yous!” Mortimer puts out his cigarette on the back of my hand; I jump back yelping in pain and surprise, looking down at my injured hand I see a fresh raw cigarette burn. I take another step back from this crazy mouse.
“Now listen here ya bozo,” Mortimer says huffing and puffing angrily on a newly lit cigarette, “I’ll try to put it in words even a twit like ya can understand. Ya don’t just pull Toons out of thin air and put’em on paper it just doesn’t work like that. We’re Dreams, Ideas, Concepts— basically immortal beings that feed on the beliefs ya give us.”
“Like… like Zeus, Odin, and the other gods?”
“Yeah, yeah! Now ya getting it,” Mortimer smirks, “Them gods are hanging by a thread though, lost a lotta believers over the years. Never ever play poker with them— they like to play with their Omni-whatevah’s on all the time… the finks.”
“I-I only burned their sketches, you just said you’re all immortal.”
“Wow. Ya really know how to disappoint a person. It’s like one step forward, two steps back with yous. Ya made a freakin’ funeral pyre, gave names, and put belief into it. Listen closely one last time. We. Concepts/Ideas/Dreams/Toons. Feed. On. Beliefs. Ya dig?” Mortimer squats on the desk and takes a long drag from his cigarette, “There’s a way we can bring them back. It’s a little dangerous, but it’ll bring them back. Heck, we might even make it back alive… probably.”
“What… what if I don’t want to bring them back?”
“Ya really don’t have a choice in this bozo.” Mortimer said snapping his fingers.
Suddenly the floor and furniture of the studio are gone and we fall down a bottomless hole. The darkness swallows us up and soon I can see nothing else but the fading light above me. I try to scream and shout but fear grips my throat strangling the fearful whimpers and cries that hammer away at escape. The air rushes past us and in minutes the light above disappears. I black out.
I blink my eyes open and get up slowly, surprised that there were no bruises or injuries from the fall. Silvery moonlight washes over everything, it looks like we’re in a very black and white cartoon graveyard. I turn to Mortimer who is suddenly taller— he stands just about close to my waist.
“Where are we?”
“The only safe entrance I can take ya through. This was supposed to be ya next Dream— close to the peripheral edge of our Worlds,” Mortimer pulls me up and guides me to a path that leads to a Chapel atop a hill. The wind blows a chilling note through the air.
To the sides of the path are brambles and underbrush as tall as Mortimer, their prickly thorns and nettles reaching out for our legs. As we make our way I see Skeletons… dancing? I rub my eyes with my free hand. They were all doing some sort of Skeleton Dance using their rib cages as xylophones and other Skeletons as Drums, and cat tails for a standing Bass— the music is hauntingly beautiful. Owls and Bats flew overhead, gliding and dipping in harmony to the skeletal song, a nightmarish dance.
We reach the hill in a matter of minutes, a few of the Skeletons that follow dance in a procession behind us. Entering the Chapel the double doors shut silently by themselves cutting us off from the music outside. Mortimer walks over to the side and flips a switch; hazy gray ceiling lights turn on. Instead of finding rows of pews inside the Chapel is filled with drawing tables, some old and some modern. Where the altar should be is my desk.
Mortimer notices the look of shock on my face, “What did ya think would be inside a Chapel made by Toons?” pulling me towards the altar-desk, he points to an inscription etched into it and a plaque made of white marble.
“Somnia vertere in vera,” I read aloud tracing the etched inscription slowly with my fingertips, “From Dreams to Reality?”
“This is our passage to ya World it’s through these desks we come to life.” Mortimer said, little clouds of smoke flying up as he talks around his cigarette.
I pick up the marble plaque from the table there’s no name on it only a title… The Artist.
“Who’s The Artist?” I ask Mortimer placing the marble plaque back down as he comes up beside me.
“Ya joking, right? Please tell me ya joking,” Mortimer shakes his head dumbfounded, “Listen bozo. This is ya Dream, this Chapel is essentially the gateway for us Dreams, through ya. Everything ya gonna be seeing right now ‘was/is/will be’ created by ya in some form or another. Ya The Artist!”
“I… I’ll be creating all this?” I stammer out looking down at Mortimer beside me.
“Ya really haven’t seen everything yet bozo, but yes. Eventually.”
“So you brought me here to show me what I’ll be creating? My future?”
“Well… there’s another reason why we came here, ya gotta draw them Toons ya killed a vessel to fill. It had to be done in our World ‘cause ya belief is amplified in this Realm. Every Toon ya made was given life through this power. Belief is a powerful thing— it can make and unmake gods, raise and topple empires, it can change World’s—both yours and ours.” Pulling open a drawer, Mortimer takes out some paper and a very sharp looking dip pen made out of silver with runes running up and down its length. In a flash he pricks one of my fingers with the pen, “Ya blood will be the ink that binds them. It’s a ritual. Ya gotta bleed to make Dreams come true.”
Hypnotized by the surreal nature of the situation I sit down and start sketching, I begin to redraw Clarabelle, Horace and Clara—their red lines the only color in this black and white world. Each time the pen runs out of ink, I would dip it into the blood trickling from the wounded finger. Drawing their crimson skeletons I find… happiness. I am in my element… I am pouring belief through the pen… I am bleeding Dreams onto paper…
I couldn’t tell how much time passed, it seemed as though hours had passed yet the Moon was still out. “What’s next?” I said wiping sweat from my brow after finishing the last sketch.
Mortimer chews on what’s left of his cigarette, “Now…” Snapping his fingers the moonlight glow changes to a golden hue as daylight pours in through the windows of the Chapel. “We talk to the Concept of Death.”
The Chapel doors open and we step out into a beautiful cartoon forest. Flowers and Trees are dancing and singing, celebrating the sunlight and life. Everything is so beautiful and full of…
“… color! All the Toons are full of color!” I exclaim, drinking the wonder of it all.
“Ya act like color is alien to us. Ya just haven’t figured out how to use it in your craft.” Mortimer has changed once again. His face has a flesh tone color to it, bright red short pants adorned with golden yellow buttons, brown shoes and whi- “Stop staring at me ya bozo!”
“Is this another Dream of mine?” I ask Mortimer, as a Flower dances by tossing petals on the path we were walking.
“Yup, just like that Skeleton Dance earlier. This is one of ya future Dreams, a little bit of ya belief back home has poured into here. This is a Dream of Life, Death, and Rebirth.”
I look back at the forest, everywhere I turn the world is full of color and life. Then I see it, a dying tree with a monstrous face with snakes and nightmares creeping and crawling in and around his craggy features. His dead hollow eyes watching us come closer step by step.
“Looks like ya figured where we’re going next.” Mortimer smirks, as we trek through the happy forest making our way to stand before this Concept of Death. “Keep calm and trust me on this… and believe that this will work. Believe.” Mortimer whispers to me.
“Ah… Mortimer, dead already are we?” Dead-Tree said his voice cold as the grave.
“Hello again ya fink. We’re here for my friends.”
“Ah… well. The circle of life can be vicious. We have rules my friend, rules. Number 1: the dead stay dead. The ones after that are pretty gruesome… if you know what I mean.”
“Well… I brought The Artist with me, as stated by the Rules ya have to obey him. No if’s or but’s, his commands are absolute in his Realm.” Mortimer said pushing me forward to stand before Dead-Tree. I swallow the fear rising up from my throat.
“Ah… The Artist, how very nice to meet you… how may I be of service?”
“H-hello… c-could you possibly let us have our friends back?” I squeak out.
“Ah… well. You’re orders are absolute in the Realm of Toons, Concepts, and Ideas… just not in my Realm.”
Sweat beads down my neck, I’m not sure what that damn mouse thought I could do. I turn to Mortimer looking for help. He winks at me and mouths one word silently…
“I can unmake you.”
“Ah… I very much doubt that after all I-“
“You’re an Idea, a Concept, a Dream, a Toon… in my Dream, in my Realm. You know that I’ve killed three Toons, what makes you think I can’t kill the Concept of Death? All it takes is a little belief. With it I can unmake a god.”
Dead-Tree turns to Mortimer, “You! Traitor! You told him this?!”
Mortimer shrugs, “Ya know me, I’m a no good fink just like ya. It took him awhile to figure it out tough.”
“Well? Do we have a deal?” I ask.
“Ah… The Artist is absolute in his Realm. Is there anything else?”
“We want passage to The Sorcerer’s Keep.” Mortimer said coming up beside me.
“Ah… It shall be done, and Mortimer? I shall be so very happy when your time comes.”
Mortimer takes the papers from me and spreads them on the ground. Dead-Tree reaches deep into his mouth and pulls out three glowing golden spheres, each flying to a sketch upon release. Dead-Tree steps aside, beneath where he stood is a wooden door.
“Good doing business with ya! Let’s go bozo!”
I look down and find my hands shaking—not from fear, but from excitement. I can’t believe I bluffed Death, well… the Concept of Death. I take a deep breath to calm myself and make my way to the door in the ground.
Opening the door we find a stone staircase leading down, ancient stone walls side to side reaching up to a ceiling we could not see. Torches set up high on the walls light the way down— curious I couldn’t wait for Mortimer to follow. The only sounds come from the burning torches, the soft echo of my footsteps, and the frantic beating of my heart. Reaching the end I find myself in a circular stone room, a number of different staircases leading into darkness connecting to it, and at the center of the room I see another simulacrum of my desk… with chains and manacles on the chair.
“Well bozo. Welcome to The Sorcerer’s Keep.” Mortimer says behind me. This time he’s dressed in a red robe, a golden rope tied around his waist and a pointed blue hat on his head with stars and moons adorning it, “Well… the lower parts of it at least.”
“You’re… The Sorcerer?”
“Naw, just The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I’m in charge of making sure ya Dreams come true in the proper order. Helping out here and there when I can.”
“Where do the other staircases lead to?”
“To other Worlds ya have yet to Dream. Their doors won’t open up ‘til ya belief starts pouring in to create them.”
“How do we get back?” I ask walking closer to my desk. I see a different inscription etched on top of it. “Ad futurum sicut unum… To The Future as One.”
“Well… Ya have to make a choice. Either one will bring you back,” Mortimer places the papers and the silver dip pen on the table, “If ya want to live with ya Dreams sit in the chair. Ya’ll face trials time and time again. Ya’ll bleed to bring ya Dreams to life. Ya life will be hard, but if ya persevere new Worlds and Dreams will come to life.”
“… and if I give up on my Dreams?” I ask looking at the chair feeling a mixture of heartache and happiness.
“Then I’ll sit in the chair. Ya Dreams, the Worlds that have yet to open, everything in this Realm will die, even me. The passage that connected ya to us will close, and ya’ll live a normal life. No more heartache, no more pain, no more disappointments or failures.”
“You’re willing to let everything here die? Just so I can have a normal life?”
“Yes, and yes. Everything in life is always about choices. Ya just gotta learn to live with them and make the best of it.”
“… what should I choose?”
“Bozo… I already know what ya going to pick.”
… The manacles fasten tight…
… The chains wrap around like a snake…
“… Yeah, bozo?…”
“… That’s a really stupid name for a mouse…”
Read M A Barr’s blog Twisted Dreams in Pen & Ink